GoAbroad Interview

Olga Safa - Data Manager & Services Administrator

Olga Safa, Data Manager & Services Administrator at the American University of Beirut

The daughter of a Lebanese dad and a Bulgarian mom, Olga spent her childhood living abroad. Her passion for foreign countries and cultures led her to join the Office of International Programs at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Olga holds a bachelor's degree in computer and communications engineering and an MBA from AUB. She speaks English, Arabic, Bulgarian, and some French and Spanish. Olga loves travelling, reading, cooking, playing the guitar, yoga, meditation, and dancing Argentine Tango. Her dearest hobby, however, is painting.

What drew you to your current role at the American University of Beirut?

Being half Bulgarian and half Lebanese, I have always considered myself to be a citizen of the world, passionate about exploring different cultures and countries. So it is very natural to be drawn to the Office of International Programs.

Office of International Programs staff at the American University of Beirut
The Office of International Programs team

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

A typical work day varies depending on the time of the year. There are times when my work day is purely administrative where I work on the OIP database programming, or I provide residence permit assistance to students. Other times my work day is extremely operational where I have to rush to General Security to help resolve urgent issues and problems with student visas and residence permits.

How do you use your own international experiences to relate to students studying abroad at AUB?

I mostly support international students studying abroad at AUB in obtaining their residence permits. This might seem like a difficult and stressful process for most students, and I can totally relate to their confusion. Knowing where they come from and how they perceive things, I empathise with them and support them by breaking down the process in ways that make them easier and more manageable for them.

Office of International Programs at the American University of Beirut

What makes the American University of Beirut a great place to study for international students?

There are so many reasons for international students to study at AUB. It’s a great place to learn Arabic and the culture of the Middle East in an environment that is rich in Eastern culture and heritage, while at the same time Western in its environment and lifestyle. It offers the perfect balance for an enriching experience.

What advice would you give international students to get the most out of their study abroad experience at AUB?

I would say live it to the fullest, find a Lebanese friend that would help you explore Lebanon and its life. It would be an unforgettable journey that would extend beyond the AUB classroom.

Office of International Programs staff and mentors at The American University of Beirut
OIP staff and AUB mentors

What are the most common concerns international students have about studying in Beirut? What do you do to alleviate these concerns?

I guess the political instability in the region is a major concern, however Beirut these days is relatively safer than many European capitals. We alleviate their concerns by highlighting the safety of AUB campus and the procedures followed by AUB to ensure the safety of its students. We provide tips and guidelines during orientation to ensure that our students have the best and most enriching experience at AUB/Beirut while staying safe.

How is travel related to education? What makes the study abroad experience in Beirut so valuable for international students?

Education is all about learning something new, broadening one’s horizons, and expanding one’s thoughts.

Travelling to new places brings a lot of new perspectives, helps break old patterns and prejudices, and opens up infinite possibilities.

Therefore the combination of travel and education creates a larger impact than education alone. Since Beirut is a modern, cosmopolitan city that offers a large spectrum of options, studying in Beirut is definitely a great destination for students considering the study abroad experience.

Olga Safa, International Student Services Coordinator at the American University of Beirut at an Office of International Programs event
Olga Safa at an OIP event

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is knowing that I have made a difference in a student’s life. For example, by securing a visa for a scholarship student to come and study at AUB, who would have otherwise not been able to get a visa and would have lost the scholarship, is what makes it worthwhile.